Subarta Trust is a non-profit and non-partisan civil organization led by its founder, Salina Akther and Professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed. The organization works with the vision of “Creating a new world for the challenged and ageing”, with the aim of ensuring economic security, physical wellbeing and healthcare to the distressed.
Subarta operates around three primary areas - special housing, professional care, and enterprises designed to ensure sustainability and livelihoods for challenged individuals. Subarta’s special housing program enables people of all ages and socioeconomic conditions to plan and secure safe and dignified housing. They have developed various types of housing models, starting from micro-housing, urban housing to country side housing for people with different financial conditions. Subarta, in partnership with the University of Alabama, has also developed professional caregiving training for destitute women.
Currently, the organization is working to launch the Caregiver Institute of Bangladesh, which will carry out research in the areas of geriatric care, stroke/dementia, physical and mental health.
Subarta’s residential care facility provides assisted living arrangements, food, recreation and geriatric services without any discrimination towards the challenged and ageing population, whether it is gender, ethnicity or religion. Recently, the Dhaka Tribune conducted an exclusive interview with Salina Akther to find out more.
Who is your primary target demographic?
When we started in 2009, we only focused on providing care to senior citizens. Gradually, we realized that we cannot target people based only on age, because people may face challenges at any point in their lives, in any form. Since then, we started providing support and care to people with any given challenges. Currently, our focus is around geriatric care, mental and physical challenges such as autism, stroke and dementia rehabilitation, and so on. Our target is to ensure that we have a ready support model for the ever changing nature of people’s health and socioeconomic situation. It is naïve to assume that people of all ages are alike, needing and wanting the same things at the same time. It is naïve because it sets us up to be surprised and less adaptable when we provide care for them. The physical, emotional and nutritional requirements of the body change as we move through the different phases of life, and it is essential to be responsive to such changes.
Nowadays, there is a major shift from joint family arrangements to nuclear families. In many cases, this has caused family values and social fabric to crumble. Our biggest challenge therein lies with the mass rejection of the scheme when initially pitched, because people have the habit of generalizing you as providing an“old home”.
However, when we started to attract our models to influential individuals, we realized that almost every household today has some sort of health related challenges. After careful assessment, we can say 60 percent of people accept our work as innovative and necessary. We need to understand that today we are moving into an alternative culture; not one of joint families or old homes but a completely new one. Lots of phase-wise understanding is required due to its unfamiliarity in the context of Bangladesh. Information and awareness can gradually change this.
To ensure dignity ageing for the ageing and challenged population of Bangladesh, what kind of collaborations and partnerships are necessary?
Subarta’s model is applicable everywhere. For the time being, it is an “individual scheme” that can include family and friends. Our Shopnolok Peace Valley currently targets individuals and families to invest in properties which can be used by any members of their families, if they meet the “challenged individual” criteria.
we realized that we cannot target people based only on age, because people may face challenges at any point in their lives
However, we are developing partnership schemes where Subarta will provide its proven model, care service management and advocacy to replicate the model in partnership with the Government and private sector organizations. Recently, we have launched an urban-style facility in Shaymoli, in partnership with the Structure Engineering Limited. So starting with the individual and gradually expanding to include family and friends create a community impact that can be visible all the way up to the national level. We are also developing inroads to develop centers at Union levels, with our Netrokona facility already in operation.
Did Subarta’s model cause a behavioral shift in the community it operates in?
Many factors including urbanization, industrialization and women empowerment have contributed to old age crisis. However, not many solutions or steps were taken to resolve the crisis. This is why Subarta’s “own property model” has gained traction fairly fast. Those who understand the implications have embraced it. Senior citizens and challenged individuals are faced with the social stigma around old homes or rehabilitation; but this is not the case with Subarta as it allows for a sense of ownership and belonging. You have to understand that when people are most vulnerable whether due to age or any health conditions, they want a sense of security, and not be more vulnerable on others. We want to create an environment where every individual has that sense of ownership and security at our facilities.
How can senior citizens make a contribution to society?
In the status quo, senior citizens are considered as a “burden” and treated as last year’s calendar. Subarta’s model acknowledges ways in which the elderly can contribute, even if they are differently abled or have lost the functioning of certain senses. We have created a make/create platform to find new ways of integration. Subarta, along these lines utilizes them in different capacities as indicated by his/her ability. Activities range from nursery exercises, handicraft making and others which keep them fit both physically and mentally. Our enterprises allow individuals with these skillsets to become entrepreneurs despite their health or ageing related challenges. We believe that being physically and psychologically active can have positive impact to their health.
Those with long lives have acquired a rich repository of experiences that they can use to help guide others. Hence, elders represent the source of wisdom that exists in each of us, helping us to avoid the mistakes of the past while reaping the benefits of life’s lessons. They have raised families, established themselves in their work life, and become contributors to the betterment of society through volunteerism, mentorships, and other forms of philanthropy. All of humanity benefits from their benevolence.
What inspires you to continue with this work?
First off, I need to utilize my own capacity as a human being. I started off with little knowledge, finance, family and community support. But these were challenges I decided to face head on. I once had to leave for the UK, leaving my sick wealthy grandma to suffer the ill fate of old age. Soon, I identified a trend of suffering, a perpetual cycle even! This is around when I started to question the state of things and began my search for solutions. Since 2006, I have been fully dedicated to caregiving and slowly started to see my dreams materialize in 2013, after a stagnant period in 2011.
Senior citizens and challenged individuals are faced with the social stigma around old homes or rehabilitation
What activities are you particularly proud of?
Subarta Conducted eye-cataract Operation of 250 elderly of remote villages in Nethrokona till now, and is expecting to continue such effort in future also. Before and after operation, food, accommodation, conveyance, medicine and others was supplied by Subarta Trust to these patients. In this regard, we express gratitude to Bangladesh Eye Hospital, Bangladesh Eye Trust Hospital, Doctors for under prevailed Children, Dutch Bangla Bank for extending helping hand. Despite our limited resources, we are distributing rice, flour, puffed rice, lungi, shari and life-saving medicines and vitamins to needy villagers of Baushi, in Nethrokona. We plan to serve nutritious food to the elderly in slum areas of Dhaka city in the future, as well as rehabilitate elderly men and women affected by natural calamities, but funding remains a serious constraint. Research materials are being procured by subarta Trust and efforts are underway to start research on elderly food, behavior and diseases, with the formation of strategic partnerships.
Various universities, colleges, corporate and social organizations visited our centers at different times and appreciated our model of caring. We warmly welcome people from all walks of life to involve themselves in voluntary caring of elderly with prior permission from us.
What is your key message for our readers?
Every family at some point will deal with ageing. So care must be ensured. Without using the entrepreneurship model, the gap of inactivity is created. This is the real culprit that causes the elderly to suffer.
We need to have a reformed system that includes a state policy, enterprise model, as well as room for identifying special needs. We should only identify with the two phases of life; the regular life with an active lifestyle and the special life with a passive lifestyle instead of segregating the old and challenged and giving up on them when they most need support.